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Blazers Season Review: Wenyen Makes Waves

A look at how Wenyen Gabriel’s high-energy style made him a fan favorite during his first season with the Trail Blazers.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The dust has settled from the Trial Blazers’ exit from postseason competition. Free agency, roster construction and the NBA Draft have crept into everyday conversation in Rip City. Before we turn the page on the longest season in the Blazers’ 50-year history, let’s take another look at the players that populated the roster during that journey.

Our most-recent installment looked at two players from the end of the bench. Today’s post focuses on the energetic upside of Wenyen Gabriel.

Wenyen Gabriel

Games: 19 (1 start) | PTS: 2.3 | REB: 2.2 | FG%: 48.4

Gabriel is the clear favorite for the “Pleasant Surprise” award this season. The final piece of the Blazers trade with the Kings, it looked like Gabriel was just a last-second throw in. That was not the case, as it was clear that the former Kentucky star brought a level of energy and intensity that has not been present in Portland’s rotation since Thomas Robinson left town.

While his counting stats are modest, the work that Gabriel put in during his time on the court is tough to miss. The Blazers got the first real taste of his highlight-worthy play during their visit to Los Angeles right after the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant. His 13-minute appearance produced six fouls and zero points, but one thing was clear: he was not afraid to leave it all on the floor when the bright lights were on.

In the postseason, Gabriel was the first man up after Zach Collins exited the series with a left ankle injury. Facing the Lakers, the 23-year-old big fella did not back down from the challenge that Los Angeles’ frontcourt presented. Gabriel notched two starts in the series and scored 10 points on five shots from the field in Game 4.

Gabriel’s athleticism creates a favorable ceiling to his upside as a versatile difference maker in the post. On the other end of the spectrum, Gabriel’s impressive skillset won’t get to shine if his penchant for fouling continues. In the regular season, his per 36 foul average sat at an eye-popping 6.6 whistles. In the postseason, that per 36 average ballooned to 10.9 fouls. This offseason, it is clear what part of Gabriel’s game must be addressed.

As our own Eric Griffith outlined in his excellent 2020 Free Agency FAQ, Gabriel is slated to become a restricted free agent in the offseason. Facing Hassan Whiteside’s potential departure and Zach Collins’ injury uncertainty, retaining Gabriel looks like an easy decision for the Blazers. If he can increase his defensive discipline, Gabriel could undertake the role of switch-friendly big man on defense. If Portland believes that he can reach that potential, the Blazers could shift their offseason focus from players like Jerami Grant to contributors like Joe Harris.